Anne-Marie Oomen | Staring at Trees: Best Rest Practice
ANNE-MARIE OOMEN, Award-winning Michigan author, writer, poet, Interlochen Arts Academy, Writing Workshops, Poet in Residence, Writer in Residence, Writing Residence
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Staring at Trees: Best Rest Practice

My writer friend Katey Schultz, sent me a postcard.

Snail mail post card. Nice. 

On it, a question: “What if our culture valued rest and relaxation?”  

Thanks Katey, what if?  IF: the operative word. Ahem.

I was busy. I was tired. I didn’t have time. To paraphrase, the world was too much with me…. But you know how it is when favorite people ask a real question?

Next, in her lovely “Dispatches from the Airstream” blog (link below), she postscripted on her own question.  She noted: Why ‘rest supports revelation?’ Because it does. And even though I’m tired, I’m also resting. I spend a lot of time looking at the trees….  How do you rest? What revelations does it bring?

Looking at trees supports revelation?  I’m hooked. Here’s an expanded version of my answers to her question.

Dear Katey,

Your line about looking at trees? Yes! Of course, that’s inevitable in our Northern Michigan woods, but I do it too, and it helps.  As a semi-retired free-lance writer, I’m not where you are—a new mom with a business—yet in some ways I am.  I too have trouble resting these days when, particularly as an older person, my mind needs it even more than my body.  This reality is one we freelance artists (literary and otherwise) don’t much speak of, how the mind tires as it ages.  How the mind tires.  Often my body feels fine—at least OK, but my mind is laced with exhaustion and a peculiar anxiety—I feel time breathing in my very skin, which shows it.  The five-to-seven hour days focusing on the screen, producing new writing or polishing revisions are gone.  The norm now is two to five hours; then the mind goes weirdly silent—no new ideas. Even my fingers feel slow, and that’s with regular stretching breaks.  Tired mind is a fact in my older life.  So I cherish the rare days when I can give the writing my all—and a little heart-broken that’s no longer the norm.

So Katey, your question, rising up from the nearly opposite ends of our adult lifetimes—you with a nursing baby, new family, full-time business and community all asking their share—you are asking a sacred question, one that, despite my busy-ness, I dare not overlook.  And truth is, I am finding ways around this tiredness, learning to accept and expand on what I have. When I can, I rest the mind by taking care of the body; integrally linked as they are.

Here’s my list.

  • First, I rest by writing In Flow.  In Flow.  Not professional writing, not academic writing, not deadline writing.  In flow writing.  When that happens, I may have tight shoulders but I have a satisfied mind—and that leaves me feeling rested.  In Flow means not knowing what I am going to write, not having a target, being fresh to the blank page with its stunning emptiness, and the emptiness being nothing and everything, and then that spark of idea, sentence, image, a smattering of neurons lighting up with invitation, and two hours later this good old mind, this work-horse imagination has transferred something interesting to the page. Or are those pages given? Feels like it.  During that experience, I am not resting necessarily—but not stressed in the writing, and afterwards I feel passionately satisfied.  A form of rest then.  I cherish it.
  • Then, exercise: first, standup paddle boarding!  Lake Michigan five minutes away—a magnificent draw.  The days I SUP are almost always strong days. The hours on open water, toes prehensiling the board, body interacting with elements—waves, currents, winds, temperature and timing, that single dipping wing of paddle. You get the picture, an all-in thing.  Somewhere way out there, I can lie down on the board, let it take me. A pattern: reach and rest. Sadly, I can’t get there enough.
  • Walking also relaxes me and quiets the rush of addled brain after too much sitting in screen light.  Even a twenty-minute walk can get me out of funk and into a better mind—which if not quite productive, is often clearer about what needs to be done.
  • The 20-minute power nap with feet or knees elevated, not in bed but on the couch or hammock (even on the picnic table) with the natural world shining on me. If I’m stuck indoors, I try that combined with stretching on the Yamuna ball—really helps tight back muscles, uptight mind muscles.  Then I curl up, feel the day’s noisy orality quieting along with tingling muscles and eye strain—draining away.  When I wake, there’s some inner silence. I can work.
  • Meditation: Mine is still a simple, inept practice, and right now, that state of super awareness is not always restful, but it does center me—so it’s a particular rest I can’t get otherwise. Afterwards, I can sometimes answer a hard question.
  • Cooking relaxes me, especially if the meal has no assigned end time, and I can be playful with ingredients—that culinary creativity. If I’m preparing this meal for a small group of cherished friends who also have no timeline, that’s happiness.  But it’s just as lovely with David at my side, calmly chopping and silently tuned.  A meal can be in flow too.
  • Finally, back to number 1.  Anything truly creative, where I attend deeply but without tension, where whatever is made will be embraced as play, in flow and moving from emptiness to fullness, where I can make something simple and lovely with clear attention but not much intention, and be utterly untensioned about the product. It seems counterintuitive but I feel rested afterwards. I may be quiet, but no longer exhausted.
  • Oh, staring at trees. Thanks, Katey, you’re right. Morning sit, cup of coffee, just stare. Yes, trees, just there, those ones you saw too on the edge of a wild yard, leaning quietly into wind.

Clumping my best rest practices into this list made for serious consciousness raising. AND insight: I do none of this rest practice as regularly as I would like or need to, but having made this list explicit… well, revelation of sorts. A calling out.  Pay attention.

What if we all attended Katey’s question? What if the culture valued rest because when rested, we became not only better colleagues but more productive?

What’s stopping us?

I know, but really?   Really?

I’ve got a lot of work to do right now, and it’s leaning on me, but I’m going for a walk.  Twenty minutes down the cracked blacktop.  I’m not going to think; I’ll rest this good mind.  When I come back, I’ll call on it, and we’ll sit down to the page and see what is revealed. Meantime, I’m asking myself Katey’s question. And passing it on. How do you rest? It may help for us to say it aloud, to make the list. To attend.

Katey’s post.